The Future of Copywriting by Gemma StrideNovember 30, 2014
Looking Back Before Looking Forward
The craft of copywriting begins with a love of words from an early age. Being a keen reader, I can remember having my nose stuck in a book for a lot of the time. I would always sigh at the end of a journey and reluctantly place my bookmark between the pages. My love of reading led me on to study English. Thinking back, I can remember feeling intrigued by writers’ styles and how they generated emotion. Authors didn’t tell you how to feel. Feelings were conjured up by the words.
A love of stories as a child built into a love of words; how they roll off the tongue (I have a few favourites, pernickety and obstreperous for starters) and how words make you feel. How re-jigging a sentence can take your copy from ”huh?” to “yeah!” And not just for me, I’m guessing it’s the same for copywriters, novelists, bloggers the world over. Whether you are writing for an advertisement or a website, it is vital your words connect with the reader and they understand what it is you are trying to say. Even better, your copy engages and conjures up emotion; acts as a trigger.
I haven’t been copywriting for that long. Even without any formal training I know I’m attempting to sell the features and benefits of a product or service. This is no different from 10 years ago and will surely be the point of copy in 10 years.
I used to think long flowing sentences were great at making me look good. What’s the point of that? I’m not the target audience. What are those sentences making my reader feel? If my reader loses track halfway along, I’ve lost them forever. So, after reading a certain person’s book, it was apparent that shorter, punchier and relevant sentences were required. Saying that, I did write quite short sentences for a piece of copy for a nursing home. That didn’t go down very well.
My short sentences might have alienated a few of those looking for a nursing home, but it was a valuable lesson. For someone to feel something and act on it simply from reading an advertisement or blog is powerful copywriting. Or should I say content marketing, a phrase that is taking over the world of copywriting.
Relevant & Valuable
As quoted by Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute, content must be relevant and valuable. For content marketing to work, the copywriter must know the product or service, but as important is the audience for whom they are writing. No point writing in a style that will not connect. Writing for a teen fashion brand is going to be poles apart from writing from, erm, a nursing home.
As adults, we continue to love a good story. Essential to good copywriting and I believe this will continue ten years from now. If a product has a great story, there will be elements that each individual will relate to. Take Olmo UK for example. A year or so ago, they started importing Italian bikes into the UK. Mildly interesting if you like Italy and bikes. However, what I really like is the story that Mario, one of the Olmo UK directors is from the small Italian village where Olmo has been hand building bikes since 1939. From a young age he dreamed of owning one of his very own. A couple of years ago he revisited his home village and met with the Italian bike builders to discuss importing into the UK. Obviously, he now owns an Olmo.
Despite this story’s heart-warming qualities, you still need more to convince you to hand over your hard earned money. In another 10 years, you will still be made to feel warm and nostalgic, but vital trigger that connects with the customer must exist. It could be the carbon fibre frame or that they are super light, making those tough hill climbs a little less strenuous?
Adapting to Change
The craft of copywriting involves the challenge of adapting writing styles. We don’t write in the same way we did ten years ago, so why would we even want to write in the same way in a decade. Advertisements used to be frightfully polite and oh so longwinded. I have a right giggle reading old advertisements. With the lack of time people have and the nature of the device on which they are reading means writing skills have to evolve. And continue to do so. Content needs to touch the reader promptly. A situation where less really has to mean more.
It’s not just the device we have to consider, but also the platform. Social media is as much a part of every day as drinking a cup of tea. With millions of blogs, posts and tweets, it is impossible to ignore the impact this has on copywriting. Social media is here for the long term. Our language has even changed because of the influence of #textspeak. Not only that, but new words have cropped up. You used to have a trend, now subjects are trending.
Whether we like it or not, our demand for up to the minute information will ensure social media’s position in society. Copywriting and content marketing will need to be ever increasingly powerful, emotive and to the point.
Tweets and the magic 140 characters encourages the tweeter to be concise, but in ten years time, will it reduce our future copywriters ability to write much more than that outside of Twitter? Posts on Facebook need to be funny, interesting and at the very least useful to encourage likes, shares and comments or they will merrily be scrolled over with someone’s over-active thumb. A business’ blog must contain relevant content. If not, will anyone click on the link to your website? I doubt it.
A slightly concerning element perhaps our copywriters of the future need to consider is the research that shows our brains are reconfiguring. Jumping from social media platforms to apps to websites is reducing our ability to concentrate and receive information. In ten years time, will copywriters need to consider this? Um, where was I…?
Blogs have encouraged so many to satisfy a thirst for stringing words together. The opportunity to write, whether it’s about renovating your beloved camper van or the intricacies of your wedding plans, to get a reaction from your readers is content marketing at its best. Your audience is captured. Tell them about a product (even better, your company’s product) in a creative, amusing way and imagine the positive impact you’ll have on your sales target.
A friend of mine is a blogger, but primarily an interior designer with the ability to make beautiful things for the home. Her blog is entertaining, contains little insights into her personal life and ties in perfectly with the content on her website. She has combined style with relevant and valuable content. Backed up by artistic, photographic facebook posts, she manages to connect with her audiences across all platforms.
The key here is that a great blog gives your readers the opportunity to react to snippets and juicy details that they relate to. This is such a great way of connecting with your customers, receiving feedback and encouraging loyalty.
The last time I consciously reacted to content was a few weeks ago. I’d subscribed to a newsletter because I loved its styling and content (despite it being a wedding blog and totally irrelevant to me being married). A piece had been written about a product. It was a brand I knew, the price was right so I clicked on the link and a purchase was made there and then. But it made me think. Why did I act in this way? Well the content was relevant to me and the information was valuable to me. ME!
Just Google It
Another influence I feel has certainly affected my copywriting and I guess will continue to do so, is Google. I used to merrily write web copy with my aim being fluidity, logic and leaving the reader with no misunderstandings about the product or service. Now, with the necessity of search engine optimisation and key word searches, clever repetition of those keys words in a sentence is the norm. I was always taught not to repeat words over and over. However, to improve Google’s chances of finding your customer’s website, search terms need to feature as much as is possible (the challenge is for your copy not to read like it was written by a child). Copywriters have to accept a Google-friendly sentence format. As Google changes its algorithms, copywriters must keep up if their customers’ websites are going to maintain their position.
It’s all very well manipulating copy to encourage people to your website, but enhancement using video, tweets and posts can potentially get it spread virally for you. Sharing, using the usual suspects and who knows how far it will reach?
The Bigger Picture
Globalisation, the World Wide Web and communication takes this discussion beyond the boundaries of our little island. Although globalisation continues to make the world a smaller place, there are important considerations that must be included in copywriting and content marketing.
Cultures, the world over, are embracing social media into their daily lives at different rates depending on politics and availability of the internet. Are you selling a product or service where you will be affected by these factors? As mentioned above, businesses the world over will be using social media to boost traffic to their website. Write something incredible with a headline that shouts, “click on me! You know you want to!” add an über cool video and you’re off and running. Whahooo!
Those across the globe who have fully grasped our complicated, ever changing language will understand word play and innuendos. However, if you have an international audience, you have to consider the millions of people who do not have English as a first language.
It is probably a good idea to assume Google translate could send you up the wrong alley. I would imagine it’s far better to try and use a local translator knowledgeable in the regional colloquialisms, humour and cultural sensitivities. It’s far too easy to offend with one small typo.
Knowing your local market was the idea behind an advertising campaign that revolved around globalisation. The HSBC advertising campaign showed that despite being a global bank, their understanding of local traditions and etiquette was as important as ever. I’m sure it was an eye opener to many companies with a global customer base. It goes back to knowing your audience and writing your copy accordingly.
Wherever you are, the time to make a first impression with words might, in the future, be measured in milliseconds, not seconds. The number of seconds in which we currently luxuriate to make an impression will be greatly reduced. The conclusion is that copywriting styles will have changed in ten years. Powerful, succinct, evolving copy will continue to speak volumes. #copywritingevolution #dontfearchange #futureproofyourcopy
Visit Gemma’s site, Brave Thinking.